Reducing Hong Kong’s Youth Crime Through Community Intervention: An Evaluation of Operation Breakthrough


Centre for Criminology

Department of Sociology

The University of Hong Kong



Professor Karen Joe Laidler

Dr. Alistair Fraser

Research Team Members:

Ms. Garlum LAU

Mr. Ting Wai Kender WU

Ms. Ngai Ling Leona LI


Executive Summary


In 1996, the efforts of a number of police in the Tuen Mun district resulted in the founding of Operation Breakthrough – a new and innovative approach, in Hong Kong, to help deter youth from engaging in delinquency and associating with negative peers. Over the past two decades, it has expanded in terms of the types of activities offered and the geographical locations. In doing so, it has been able to reach out to greater numbers of youth with a broader range of social and economic backgrounds. Apart from community support and local donations, it has acquired international recognition as one of Laureus World Sports Foundation’s “Sport for Good Foundation” projects in 2005. Its provision of sporting activities with positive interaction with role models has had a sustained impact in helping young persons throughout Hong Kong.


This evaluation report is based on a review period of Operation Breakthrough from May 2012 to August 2013. The evaluation explores issues related to effectiveness, impact and future direction. The study’s specific objectives included:

  1. To measure the impact of the program on young person’s involvement in risk behaviors.

  2. To explore reasons why young person’s involvement in the program has an impact.

  3. To collect young persons’ perceptions of the program.

  4. To review the process and practices in working with referring agencies (police, probation, schools, social workers), sports trainers and coaches.


To complete this research, two main data protocols were adopted. The first protocol was a quantitative survey with 107 participants from boxing, football, jazz dance, judo, rugby, running and sailing of Operation Breakthrough from April to June 2013. The evaluation team also collected qualitative data through field observations, case study interviews with current and active participants and semi-structured interviews with those involved with the agency in different ways, including veterans and coaches, social workers from partner agencies , a voluntary helper, a full-time Operation Breakthrough coordinator, ex-Operation Breakthrough directors, current directors and PR firm representatives. This range of perspectives and experiences provides us with a more comprehensive and holistic understanding of Breakthrough’s history, current practices, and considerations for future directions.


Summary of Research Findings

Demographic Profile

  • Total sample size is 107 (N=107)

  • More than a quarter of respondents are from rugby (27.1%), followed by jazz dance (19.6%) and football (15.9%)

  • 70% male, 30% female

  • 72% aged between 14-18 years old

  • 88% are Chinese

  • 78% were born in Hong Kong and 19.6% were born in Mainland China

  • 88% of them are still attending schools (87.6%)

  • 37% are attending junior secondary school (F.1-3) while 46% are in senior secondary

  • 23% are from a single-parent family

  • 44% have 1 sibling while 23% have 2 siblings


Major Survey Findings

  • 43% are friends’ referral, followed by PSDS (32.0%) and Outreach social workers (17.5%)

  • 81% joined the program for less than 4 years

  • 64% said they have a very good relationship with social workers while 22% said good

  • 53% said they have a very good relationshipwith police volunteers while 23% said good


  • 56% said they have a very good relationship with coaches while 25% said good

  • 58% said they would like to stay with Operation Breakthrough not more than 4 years

  • 5% said they were arrested again after joining Operation Breakthrough

  • 3% said they were convicted again after joining Operation Breakthrough


On Satisfaction after joining Operation Breakthrough

  • 82% of respondents express that they feel physically stronger

  • 90% think the sports improved their skills in time management

  • 93% believe that they understand people better

  • 93% found themselves better in co-operation in team sports

  • 94% express they attained a higher level of self-esteem

  • 85% have a more positive view towards police in general

  • 94% believed that the sports they were engaged in will stay with them for life


Further On Satisfaction Scores

  • Significant difference in terms of satisfaction scores for jazz dance and running, with the former scoring the highest and running scoring the lowest, but differences among other activities were not statistically significant

  • Chinese participants tend to report higher satisfaction scores than non-Chinese

  • Locally born youth tend to report higher satisfaction scores than non-locally born youth

  • Girls reported slightly greater positive change after joining than boys

  • Participants living with both parents tend to report higher satisfaction scores than those living with a single parent or relative.

  • Participants of activities which are held at police-managed venues tend to report higher scores. They also tend to especially find the activity more meaningful and themselves more able to resist delinquency.




Other Qualitative Findings


“Yan-ching-mei” 人情味

A notable strength of the program is its motto - “sports for all”. Case study interviewees believed that their participation was not just about the sports or winning, but also about developing empathy, focus and a collective identity. Through the process of involvement, they could still see the project personnel - social workers, Operation Breakthrough directors, coaches and volunteers - looking after everyone equally and whole-heartedly, irrespective of the youth’s performance.


Many respondents described the bonding and meaningful interactions as the most beneficial aspect of Breakthrough - the “yan-ching-mei” (人情味, a humanistic approach of being like family members). With 87% of participants agreeing to come back to work as Operation Breakthrough volunteers in the future attest to Operation Breakthrough’s success as a program in cultivating strong bonds and connections.


Strong Partnership of All Parties

One other beneficial and unique aspect to Operational Breakthrough derives from the coming together of different stakeholders - enthusiastic coaches, police volunteers, social workers and directors – who with their diverse backgrounds have the common goal and an agenda to facilitate young people’s positive personal growth and sense of community through sports. Many current participants and veterans expressed their gratitude towards Operation Breakthrough directors, social workers and coaches, referring to them as “another Parent” (再生父母), brothers (兄弟) or mentors for life

for helping them to completely transform their lives. Such intensive and meaningful social interactions contributed to their overcoming their youth troubles and progressing into a responsible adult. Interviewed youth expressed that they learn not just the skills of the sports but more importantly, the essential values and way of life to be a better person.


Way Forward


Operation Breakthrough faces a few major challenges. Ongoing changes in staffing and shifts of the social work personnel of partner agencies can pose challenges to the program, as it is then difficult to establish long-term meaningful and consistent interaction with social workers. The social work or partner agency premise of “case flow” (each case lasts for about one to two years) differs from Operation Breakthrough’s philosophy of “case for life”. This difference can prove difficult to long-term collective planning. Partnership with various social work agencies and referral sources also inevitably extends their different work cultures and organization structures into Operation Breakthrough, making consistencies of practices within and across activities more difficult. Recruiting and training high quality police volunteers might be urgent, so as to supplement Operation Breakthrough directors who are soon retiring from the police force.


Externally, the normalization of drug use among youth might pose new challenges to Operation Breakthrough as the growing number of drug-using young persons may require a new different approach with sport. With the number of sporting programs offered by NGOs and local sport clubs thriving, this might also mean keen competition to Operation Breakthrough, thus presenting challenges in its turnout and retention rate. Diversifying its referral sources may be a way out to maintain case numbers, however more inconsistency may result from more referral sources and partners.


In relation to these challenges, the following are suggested to better help the programme:


  • To introduce new directors from other sectors (e.g. welfare sector to deal with new challenges like drug use among teenagers.)

  • To consolidate ties with the police and recruit young police officers to be directors as a way to sustain the programme. Given that police-managed venues are a symbolic advantage of the programme, such bonding with the Force would determine the continued success of Operation Breakthrough.

  • To maintain strong partnerships between agencies is a key to success. Regular meetings to discuss matters concerning a sustained partnership would be essential. If possible, looking for potential new partners would be a safe measure for Breakthrough.

  • To ensure consistency and quality, volunteer training and orientation are recommended.

  • To diversify the sources of recruiting new participants would be important for sustainability.

  • More frequent and regular communication among partners, volunteers, coaches and directors would

  • be of paramount importance to the success of the programme and the well-being of the participants.




There are many people who have contributed to this evaluation. We would like to thank all those who took the time to reflect on their time and experiences with the programme from the Directors to volunteers, NGO staff, and Operation Breakthrough alumni and current participants – for taking the time to talk and reflect on their time and experiences with the programme. We are also grateful to Laureus Foundation for their interest and support for this evaluation study